France PM Valls pushes key economic reforms through

People walk in the shopping gallery of the Gare Saint Lazare railway station in Paris on 30 March 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Under the new bill, French shops can extend their Sunday trading hours

The French prime minister has resorted to a rarely used emergency procedure to push through labour market reforms without a parliamentary vote.

Manuel Valls faced opposition from some MPs in his own Socialist Party, as well as Green MPs over the reforms.

The Socialists have a majority, but now face a confidence vote on Thursday. The reforms will be adopted automatically if the government wins the vote.

The plan is to scrap barriers in law firms and extend shop opening hours.

The reforms should make it easier for young people with law qualifications to get jobs as solicitors, bailiffs or court clerks.

Long-distance bus operations will be opened up to competition, under the so-called "Macron Law", named after Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.

The new law will also speed up labour tribunal proceedings in dismissal cases.

The Socialists are expected to survive the confidence vote, which was demanded by the centre-right opposition UMP.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Manuel Valls feared a parliamentary rebellion could block key economic reforms

Pro-business message

Mr Valls said he had resorted to a constitutional mechanism called 49-3, last used in 2006, because he was worried about "the risk that the text would be rejected".

There have already been about 200 hours of debate in the National Assembly (parliament's lower house) on the Macron Law.

Shop opening hours are among the most controversial measures - shops will increase the number of Sundays they open, from five to 12 annually.

Shops in designated tourist zones, mainly in Paris, will be allowed to open every Sunday, despite opposition from the capital's Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Mr Valls wants the new law to send a message to the European Commission that his government is serious about labour market reform.

The commission may ease France's tough debt reduction targets if it judges that the economy is on the path towards competitiveness and growth.

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